“My sadness is that we are probably today more race- and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up.”

Justice Clarence Thomas
Justice Clarence Thomas

Last week, Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke the above words to a gathering of college students at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Apparently the second African-American Supreme Court Justice feels nostalgic for the days of his racially segregated childhood. Apparently the second African-American Supreme Court Justice would prefer a return to the days in which racialized violence was common practice in the South and blacks lacked a political voice—locally or nationally—to protect themselves. Apparently the second African-American Supreme Court Justice believes that the tenor of racial discourse in this country has not improved since the 1960s; it has, in fact, worsened.

Maybe the fact that Thomas claims the issue of race rarely came up in his Georgia explains many of his voting patterns on the court today. He has voted to scale back affirmative action programs, despite the fact that those very same programs probably benefitted him at some point in his life. He has voted to dismantle the Voting Rights Act of 1965, without which thousands of black voters would not have been able to cast ballots and change discriminatory laws.

A “more race- and difference-conscious” America has elected the first black president, appointed the first female Chair of the Federal Reserve, and witnessed the striking down of a law that allowed the federal government to deny recognition to same-sex marriages. Justice Thomas, we’re going to talk about race. And gender. And class. Because despite the sanitized view of race relations evident in your statement, these discussions haven’t impeded equality, justice, and social progress. On the contrary, these conversations expedite these processes.

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